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Live Chat with the Product Manager at Salesforce

How does one get a job as a Product Manager without technical background? What are the dos and don’ts in a PM job interview? What is it like being the Product Manager of a massive company like Salesforce? We had a live chat session on Slack with the Product Manager at Salesforce, Jared Long, and our community to ask him all these questions. Turns out that his background wasn’t technical either…

 

Live Chat with the Product Manager at Salesforce

 

Can you talk a bit about your background and how you got into product management?

I have a marketing background. I studied marketing both in undergrad and business school. I first got into product management at TripAdvisor through their Marketing Rotation program as my first job out of school. There, marketing was closely aligned with product, so I had the opportunity to gain some exposure through three product rotations. I fell in love with it right away. Not very often are you able to have the opportunity to build and market your products.

 

Can you speak about how much technical knowledge a PM should have?

I don’t have a technical background at all. I’ve studied marketing, I like qualitative analysis over quantitative, but that hasn’t stopped me from progressing in my career as a Product Manager. There are more technical product management roles that will focus more on APIs and server architecture/implementation, and these will inherently be more technical.

However, there are many roles in web/mobile that are more user-facing which would require less technical expertise. As long as you’re not afraid to learn on the fly, you’ll be fine.

 

How has your marketing background helped you as a PM? What do you wish you would have known before you started?

Learning on the fly is your best friend! I wish I knew that product management was a thing when I was in undergrad. Even after getting my MBA, product management is not something there are a lot of classes in. Marketing has taught me how to love my customer, and understand what needs they have that will be the most impactful for driving business.

 

Live Chat with the Product Manager at Salesforce

 

Salesforce is a massive company. How does the product management organization influence and encourage agility within a company that likely has a ton of stakeholders?

I’m new to Salesforce myself. My last company was acquired by Salesforce in September ‘16. Salesforce is quite large, but all of the development teams are organized into scrum teams. From my experience, while we do have a hierarchy, Salesforce is extremely efficient in the decimation of information which enables people like me to know what the top priorities are and execute on those.

 

Do you still feel that you’re part of the tight HeyWire team or do you feel like you’ve been swallowed up by Salesforce?

It’s a little bit of both, and it has to do with how well certain members of your team adapt to the new culture. Some jump right in, and some are scared to get their toes wet. Personally, I’m trying to be all Salesforce. But we do all still sit with each other, so we do get the HeyWire feel still.

 

How do you perform user interviews/surveys and what are your favorite methods?

Being at a company like Salesforce, our customers are all businesses which take PMs one step further from the actual users. Because of this, it makes industry conferences that much more important because that’s the easiest way for us to get in front of our customers and hear what they’re saying.

We also do onsite visits, but this is much more infrequent because of everything else on my plate. When I was in a consumer-facing role, there were tons of online tools like usertesting.com that allow you to specify tests you want their community to run through, and then will provide you with a nice set of results of your tests.

 

As a PM, do you have the “Product Owner” role on one or more scrum teams? Given the size of the company, how much decision making/ownership do you get?

I am the Product Owner on two teams. This is not typical here at Salesforce. Many only manage one team, some do manage more. Salesforce is a company that loves autonomy and trust. That’s a big part of our values here. As long as decisions are substantiated, you do pretty much have free reign to make decisions.

There are always cases where your manager has lined up a couple of projects for you, though. That will almost always happen.

 

Live Chat with the Product Manager at Salesforce

 

Can you highlight on how intuition is also pivotal for a PM in cases where data isn’t of much help?

Intuition is pivotal, you are right about that. I recently switched to a more technical role at Salesforce where I have less experience. This has exposed to me that I don’t yet have the intuition I’m used to having.

In situations like this, you have to learn how to ask the right questions, and not be afraid of continuing to ask until you have the information you need to make bold decisions. In previous roles that are more user-facing, studying up on design guidelines and case studies helped form my intuition.

 

How are your product teams structured? Do you have a designated team of devs? Do you work with design?

Our product teams are structured around our high-level product grouping, and then gradually become more granular as you get into specific departments and products within that department. Product Managers and Engineering Managers will typically work together to ensure that skills mesh together well when assembling a team.

There’s usually a scrum master who will manage the team to the timeline they agree to. Some companies will have a dedicated designer in a scrum team, and others will assign design resources for projects as needed before the project reaches the scrum team.

 

What kind of defined processes are there in Salesforce’s product management organization. And what is left for the individual PM to define for themselves and their teams?

My company pre-acquisition was a team of 28, two of which were Product Managers. There was little to zero processes. It drove me mad. Salesforce is much more structured, as they should be, but the hardest part in the switch was understanding the role I’m supposed to have.

At Salesforce, I can focus on the roadmap, and the “why” of the projects we work on. It’s up to engineering to figure out the “how.” Salesforce want’s their PMs working six months ahead of the current development, so we have tons of processes for reviewing roadmaps, updating departments on statuses leading up to releases, etc. As an individual, we have to define why we want to move forward with a project and describe what it is we’re trying to achieve. But even this is a team effort to some extent.

 

What are your top 3 data-driven methods/tactics to influence engineers?

I don’t know that I have the best answer here. I’ve learned that if you can get access to data, using numbers to show the logic behind decision making can strengthen your case if you’re trying to convince engineers to pick between one solution and another. I’ve found that simply giving engineers the feedback around a certain project that was released typically brings them a lot of satisfaction. Engineers aren’t close to the customer at all, so as a PM I try to bridge that gap and always tell them (positive or negative) what the customer is saying.

 

Live Chat with the Product Manager at Salesforce

 

What advice would you give to someone who is transitioning from design research and product design into a PM role?

I think that your background is set up very nicely for the transition. Having spent time in research and product design, I would go out on a limb and say that you have a very good understanding of how to learn about your users. Not many people switch from your background to PM, so that’s an advantage to you. I would advise you to reach out to your manager or HR at your company if you’re looking to switch internally.

If looking externally, look for associate product manager roles (or product manager roles) and network via LinkedIn to get your foot in the door. When you get to an interview, stress your training in understanding user behavior and understanding the methods to finding out what user pain points are.

 

How critical is it for your Roadmap to have timelines (while you are a PM presenting it to the leadership)?

I think the desire to not communicate timelines mostly stems from what makes engineering more comfortable. They don’t want deadlines, which is understandable. On the flip side, everyone else in the organization, PM included, wants to know how they can plan for when a product will hit the market. It is such a fine line to tow as a PM because I’m always pestered for dates, but it’s not until development is further along that I’m able to communicate dates.

I typically address this by communicating timelines around when I’ll know the date. If we have grooming sessions planned, I know that’s a date I can communicate as a time where I’ll have more information to better predict a release timeline.

 

What skillset is more important in a PM role: technical or softer team oriented skills?

I would probably say the soft skills. You HAVE to know how to work well in a team. The interesting thing about product managers is that you rely on the output of people you don’t directly manage. This means you have to be a good communicator.

 

What are the dos and donts for a PM interview? Also What is the process to get an interview call from a company like Salesforce?

DOS: Research the company, look at all of their products, evaluate the products, know what you like, know what you would change – and have a very good list of reasons for why you would make these changes. Ask how they make their money, understand how much revenue your product is responsible for. Be vocal about teamwork, and you MUST demonstrate knowledge of who their customer is.

DONTS: Say that their product is perfect. Say that you like working alone. Say that you don’t like talking to customers. Say that you don’t like learning. Just apply to jobs online, or have someone at the company refer you. That’s the best way to get in the door.

 

Live Chat with the Product Manager at Salesforce

 

How does product management differ from product marketing at Salesforce?

Our Product Marketing teams are more sales focused and communication focused. They align the sales teams on the product terminology to use with customers, which ways to speak with customers, and they also focus on the presentation of information to the customers. Product Managers are solely focused on the product lifecycle.

 

How often do you meet and discuss with the customer service support management team?

I interact with customer service/success on a daily basis. It’s important they know everything about how to troubleshoot your product. If you don’t take the time to teach them how to solve problems themselves, then they will always need some of your time. We’re undergoing a big effort to build tools specifically for this team so that they can better debug customer issues themselves.

 

How is the PM role different between a consumer-facing company vs. an enterprise software company like Salesforce?

The biggest difference is that you have to work harder to get in front of your users and understand that the people you sell to are different than the people who use your product. They care about different things. With enterprise software, there’s also typically bigger demand from sales to be supported on customer calls, so it’s very important in the enterprise that you communicate efficiently internally so everyone can speak about the product values the same ways.

These are important because it’s just like playing telephone, the more people between the PM to the user, the more likely information is going to get jumbled. You still want to make sure the buyers are buying for what they like, and your customer’s business sees the benefits they need.

 

Have any comments? Tweet us @ProductSchool

We teach product management courses in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and New York. To learn more about our upcoming courses and how to apply click over to our course page.

Live Chat with Dan Olsen, Author of The Lean Product Playbook

Two of Dan Olsen’s favorite quotes on problem vs. solution are “people don’t want a quarter inch drill, they want a quarter inch hole.” and “with great responsibility comes NO power.” We wanted to find out more about what he thinks about problem vs. solution and product management and so we unleashed our community to ask him questions about it. Here is what we got.

 

Live chat with Dan Olsen, Author of The Lean Product Playbook

 

How is product management different in enterprise apps vs. consumers apps?

I think it’s more similar than different for enterprise vs. consumer. The difference is that you have fewer customers. Maybe you have dozens instead of thousands or millions, so you need to lean on qualitative techniques more heavily. Either way, you need to talk with your customers. Reaching the customers can sometimes be more difficult for enterprise with Sales, Account Management, and others “blocking” you.

Regardless, you need to find a way to talk with your customers in person for discovery up front and to get feedback on your prototypes. I refer to qualitative techniques as the Oprah approach, and quantitative techniques as the Spock approach.

 

Given how many new products today utilize deep learning/machine learning, what do you think Product Managers need to know about these topics?

Machine learning/deep learning is a hot trend right now, but like any trend, you have to be mindful of where it is in the hype cycle. For example, I think “Big Data” is cooling off a bit but to answer your question, I think those topics are helpful in areas where personalization is important, e.g., recommendations and also, analytics and extracting insights.

I think it’s nice to have a high-level knowledge of those topics as it can never hurt to know basic ML. To me, it’s an extension of having basic statistics knowledge which I think is helpful for Product Managers. Coursera offers a great ML class from Stanford. I took it and enjoyed it. If you have an interest in going deeper, I would recommend fast.ai. The bottom line is that I don’t think you need in-depth ML expertise unless you’re in one of those hardcore spaces, like Google.

 

What is your favorite PM book (apart from yours)?

Books that I like are Marty Cagan’s “Inspired,” Tony Ulwick’s “What Customers Want” and “Running Lean” by Ash Maurya. I also like Laura Klein’s “UX for Lean Startups,” even though the title sounds like it’s more for designers, it’s great for Product Managers as well. There’s a new book that came out recently by Tony Ulwick “Jobs to Be Done” which I haven’t read yet.

 

Live chat with Dan Olsen, Author of The Lean Product Playbook

 

I want to do Product Management, but I don’t have the experience. Any suggestions on where to begin?

A lot of people are in that boat with you. PM is hot right now. I would recommend reading the following two books on getting a job in product management: Cracking the PM Interview and Decode and Conquer.

At my Lean Product meetup, I’ve hosted in-depth panel discussions on this topic twice now. Carlos from Product School was on the panels and shared a lot of great advice. You can find the videos on my YouTube channel. My last tip is to try to get as many coffee chats or informational interviews with Product Managers as you can.

 

While interviewing with a company for a product role, what are some questions to pose to figure out if the company is product driven?

I think a key question is to ask them how they make product decisions. Who is involved? Who has a say on what? How do they determine their roadmap? How do they prioritize? Weak or non-existent answers to these questions are usually a yellow flag and even worse is if they say “engineering gets to decide.” I would also ask about the structure of their product management team. Who does it report to? Who are the managers? What has been this history of the team?

 

What things do you recommend for moving from a purely technical background to Product Management?

The muscles that the tech people typically need to build are:
1. Customer understanding, comfort talking with customers, skills in eliciting requirements and prioritization from them.
2. UX design. You don’t need to be a design expert on this, but you should know enough to have conversations with the designers.
3. Business skills. Learn about revenue and costs. What are the drivers of your business?
4. Influencing skills. Product Managers have to get a lot of people to do things, but no one reports to us.

 

Live chat with Dan Olsen, Author of The Lean Product Playbook

 

How would you approach engaging top management on the importance of PMs?

Good question. I would start by showing them all the top, successful companies that have good PM organizations and share some good posts on what PM does for the organization. Maybe you can bring in external PM speakers. It can be tough if none of them have any PM experience or they haven’t worked with PMs before. If those efforts aren’t fruitful, it might be beneficial to go somewhere where they value PM more.

 

What is the best way to prioritize a product roadmap?

Prioritization is one of the most important PM skills on the roadmap: It should be customer-centric, not feature-centric and organized by problem space themes, not solution space. I recommend using my “Importance vs. Satisfaction” framework to prioritize.

 

What are the PM Tools/Apps on your daily basis?

Most of my clients use JIRA to manage their backlog. I live in Google Docs, especially Sheets and I use Google Slides to organize and share screenshots, e.g., competitive analysis of other products. I’m a big fan of Balsamiq for wireframing. I think PMs should have at least basic wireframing skills. And Balsamiq is very easy to use. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

 

How do you handle scope creep with erratic stakeholders?

That is a tough one. At the end of the day, the pie is never more than 100%, so the only way is to make sure they clearly see the trade-offs of doing that. For example, “okay, we can do X, but that means the work done to date on Y is wasted. And Z will slip three weeks.” Step 1 to do this is to ensure you have a SINGLE global backlog that everyone can see, and you need a mechanism to agree on prioritization of that.

Then when changes come up, the trade-offs can be explained more cleanly. Your job as a PM is to be the “reality messenger.” To do so, you need to make things transparent so that trade-offs can be discussed, and hopefully, no one is shooting the messenger in the organization.

 

Live chat with Dan Olsen, Author of The Lean Product Playbook

 

How does product management in a large firm (like Google or Apple) differ from product management in a startup?

It should be largely the same. In larger companies, it’s true that the scope of your role is likely smaller, more tactical and less strategic but there is still plenty of work to be done to fill in the details of the roadmap passed down from on-high to ensure it meets customer needs. At larger companies, decisions can take longer to make. You may have more stakeholders to deal with and sometimes, teams in a large successful company don’t have any real time pressure.

In startups, you typically (not always) have fewer resources to work with. For example, you may have what I call a “design gap” where no one on the team has design skills. I find that startups tend to move quicker because their survival depends on it.

 

What programming languages or other software, do you recommend a PM to learn?

I don’t think it’s absolutely critical for PMs to know how to code but it can be helpful and certainly can’t hurt. I’ve been coding since I was 10. In 2005, after working on my 3rd web product, I wanted to learn web programming languages. I would recommend starting with HTML & CSS then moving on to JavaScript and then to a server-side language such as Python. I would also pick up some basic SQL skills which are helpful for PMs, even if you don’t learn any of the other languages.

Learning some basic Unix can be helpful, too. The goal of all this is not to be a coder yourself but to be credible with developers and to be able to estimate the rough scope of what you’re asking for. You need to understand if the feature requires front-end work, back-end coding, DB changes, etc. so that you can collaborate with developers to identify the lowest scope solution that will solve the problem.

 

What are some high-level actions you take in the first 15-30 days on joining a new PM team?

Building relationships and understanding the organization & business are important first steps. Take the time to have 1-on-1s with as many people you will be working with as this will be very difficult later when your calendar is all filled up. Be a sponge. Listen and learn before being too heavy handed in your recommendations. I would dive into the backlog as soon as possible to start to understand the items in it, how the team populates it, how the team writes stories and how they prioritize. But listen first.

 

Have any comments? Tweet us @ProductSchool

We teach product management courses in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and New York. To learn more about our upcoming courses and how to apply click over to our course page.

Intro to A.I. with Amazon’s Senior Product Manager

We already have intelligence assistants but how about voice-activated cars and kitchen appliances? This is the future. With Amazon Lex and A.I. such as natural language understanding and automatic speech recognition we will be able to do lots of similar things in the future. But how did Amazon do this? Senior Product Manager Sudheera Vanguri explains.

 

 

Sudheera Vanguri, the Senior Product Manager at Amazon Web Services, works closely with A.I., on an Amazon campus that focuses on data and databases. She is responsible for AWS consoles, such as Amazon Lex, Amazon RDS, and Amazon DynamoDB. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering and a master’s degree in Business Administration.

Amazon Web Services “offers a collection of cloud computing services that make up an on-demand computing platform.” The purpose of this is that without knowing too much about how to build, for example, a chat bot a developer can do it.

One of these services is Amazon Lex. Amazon has put the intelligence of Alexa into the cloud so that any developer can take it and plug it into their device. Here are four key points from Sudheera’s presentation on Intro to A.I.

 

A.I. is here with us now

Artificial Intelligence isn’t just some utopistic thing that we have seen in the movies. It’s actually here around us but just in much humbler forms. When you go online and click to sites like Amazon or Netflix you can see the recommendation engines. Those are one form of personalization tools that uses A.I. Other ones are, for example, the retail product catalogs and Amazon Go.

Amazon Go was created to help people do shopping faster. It’s an application based on computer visions, and its purpose is to do no-line checkout. With it, you can walk into a shop, pick your things, get the check right away without waiting and walk out. Shopping can be as easy as that.

 

Intro to A.I. with Amazon's Senior Product Manager

 

A.I. is not machine learning nor deep learning

A.I. doesn’t mean the same as machine learning or deep learning. However, machine learning is a subset of A.I., and deep learning is a subset of machine learning. Machine learning consists mainly of algorithms and data while deep learning is about doing similar things with a lot of data and A.I. Both of these are more knowledge-based structures than A.I.

To understand what machine learning is exactly we have to think about how to learn to play an instrument. At the beginning of the learning process, you will learn the finger patterns. Once you know those you can start changing the tempo and melody. This is a similar process that they’re trying to teach and make machines do. By training data, they develop intelligence.

To look further at deep learning, we take a closer look at what happens in the brain when it recognizes a face. Mainly it’s about neuron layers that go through different processes from the point where it recognizes that a figure is a face to actually knowing that it’s person A’s face. Deep learning is a layered network of algorithms that we’re trying to simulate.

 

Voice recognition is interacting with machines

Now we get to the main subject which is A.I. A.I. is putting knowledge around the data, and therefore it is more cognitive than the other two. It’s a field of computer science aiming to simulate human intelligence artificially. It has the cognitive ability to understand languages, communication patterns and to process information. An A.I. machine can also recognize voices, tones in voices, faces, emotions and when someone smiles.

The latest product with this kind of voice recognition technology inside it is the Amazon Echo. It has the Amazon Alexa inside it which uses NLU (natural language understanding) and ASR (automatic speech recognition). This advanced technology machine takes commands and understands human speech, speaking habits, and even sarcasm.

 

Intro to A.I. with Amazon's Senior Product Manager

 

A.I. in the future

As scary as artificial intelligence sounds it brings us lots of benefits. With Amazon Lex, we can voice activate cars among other things in the future. It can also help disabled people live more normal lives when instead of not physically being able to, let’s say, open the door they can voice activate it.

Now let’s think about something we use every day. A kitchen, for example. How helpful – and cool – would it be to have voice activated kitchen appliances? Artificial intelligence can also help companies decide what direction to take in the future based on data from the past.

 

Questions from the audience

 

How do you know that enough training data has gone into the system?

It’s a continuous training model, and there is a lot of testing that goes into testing when you find the training data sufficient enough for the model to behave in a way that’s close to the way a human would behave. I didn’t build Alexa, so I don’t know how many years of data was provided to it, but with the advent of big data, you can expect that billions of records were provided.

Think about this. All the services that are exposed on AWS cloud have been dog fooded on Amazon retail. Think of the recommendation engines on Amazon that you see. All of those work on billions of product catalogs around the world and once that is sufficient enough and that’s been tested enough that’s exposes an AWS for general consumption.

Amazon Lex has been tested on Amazon Alexa, and now we expose it out to regular developers. What developers can do with this service is that they can provide the training data and then continuously monitor and keep improving the model without having to write a single line of code. All the code is abstractive for them, so it’s a fully managed service.

 

Intro to A.I. with Amazon's Senior Product Manager

 

What’s your experience on customers’ concerns about data privacy?

Data privacy goes hand in hand with advanced technology. In the case of voice activation and especially smart home and IOT advises the amount of data that goes into these cloud services is huge. There is a lot of sensitive customer data.

One example was when a burglar was caught on Amazon Alexa, and that produced evidence in court. That was surprising. Especially surprising to me was that every single record that customer speaks into the Echo is available to us. It’s all done in order to improve the model. As you speak a command, it’s converted into text in the background, but that voice sample is also available to us.

We’ve not received feedback from people saying that they’d be concerned about it. We’ve mostly had feedback about how to use it or how to empower the product to use the A.I. and not so much about the privacy.

 

How do you balance privacy with personalization?

Essentially presenting to that user what is useful to him without making it creepy. Think of an email inbox. If you were shown ads related to all the personal emails, if you were shown ads of you as a Product Manager, you would have to think about the customer and identify where to draw the line.

You can use some of the methodologies that Product Managers use, for example, A/B testing and user ability test to figure out where to draw the line and to only show that particular user what he’s interested and not share it with everyone. That is taken care of very well I think in the larger companies. That is where I would draw the line as a Product Manager.

 

So what do we learn from this? That in the future cars will move with voice recognition, the oven goes on with just a few words and that we shouldn’t commit crimes if there’s an Amazon Echo in the room. Also, it means that there will be more opportunities for Product Managers.

 

Have any comments? Tweet us @ProductSchool

We teach product management courses in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and New York. To learn more about our upcoming courses and how to apply click over to our course page.

Journey to PM: Lessons Along the Way with AWIP

What happens when you put together three female Product Managers from three top companies in tech? A great panel discussion. PM’s from Google, Peek, and Facebook shared their thoughts on product management, their experiences in getting into product and lessons they’ve learnt along the way.

 

They talked about what worked for them, what they’d do differently, and how to succeed in Product roles. Deepika Yerragunta, PM at Amazon’s Alexa team and one of the co-founders of a non-profit organization Aspiring Women in Product. She led the panel by presenting questions for the women to answer and discuss.

 

What is AWIP?

Aspiring Women in Product is an organization for women in different roles in product management. It was founded with the thought of creating a community where women could find growth opportunities, find a job and grow in the job. It also offers peer support.

 

The amazing women in Product

 

Journey to PM: Lessons Along the Way with AWIP

Deepika Yerragunta

Head of Product Management at Amazon and the Senior Product Manager of the Alexa Voice Service. She previously worked at Intel, Marketron and AT&T Foundry and she was the CEO and co-founder at Hautely. She’s also co-founder of Aspiring Women in Product.

 

 

 

Journey to PM: Lessons Along the Way with AWIP

Navya Gupta

VP of Product at Peek where she is responsible for scaling the marketplace known as the “OpenTable for the $100 billion activities market.” Before Peek, she has worked at big companies such as Uber, StyleSeat, Disney Interactive, and Goldman & Sachs.

Favorite product: Slack and pregnancy apps because she’s six months pregnant at the time.

 

 

Journey to PM: Lessons Along the Way with AWIP

Amanda Moore

Group Product Manager at Google Maps where she drives the overall user experience for the Android, iOS and web apps. Before Maps, she worked in the Ads org at Google.

Favorite product: Headspace because Amanda thinks it’s easy to adapt to your day-to-day life and it’s very accessible.

 

 

 

Journey to PM: Lessons Along the Way with AWIP

Sally Chang

Product Manager at Facebook on the Business Platform team. Before this, she was a Monetization Product Marketing Manager at Facebook on the Direct Response & Commerce team. She’s also worked in strategy teams at Coach.

Favorite product: Of course Facebook. She also likes Strava because it brings fitness people together.

 

 

How they got into product

The women all joined product from different backgrounds. Navya went to work on Wall Street as an engineer straight after school, Sally started at Facebook’s Aid Product Marketing team whereas Amanda took the so-called “traditional way” to Product and started with an engineering internship at Microsoft.

To Amanda, it seemed clear early on that she wanted to work as a Product Manager in the future, but for Navya and Sally, it took longer. After working at Goldman & Sachs Navya realized that she didn’t want to continue working only in engineering and decided to change to product. The transition happened naturally for her, and she enjoys being able to do a lot of the same things as she did before.

Sally, on the other hand, after business school, worked at retail and business management until she realized that she wanted to do product management. But even though she knew what she wanted now, she found it hard to prove that she could do it without any experience. She got a job at Facebook’s Aid Product Marketing Team and worked her way up from there. What helped her get further was a piece of advice from her boss: “the best way to prove that you can do well in your future role is to do really well in your current one.”

 

The best mentors and the worst mistakes

When asked about whether the women have had any mentors along the way they all agree that the peer group of other women in product and their bosses have helped them the most. These people have been there to help the women grow and to find great opportunities. Amanda says that she’s also happy to have been able to help some of her friends in product and that she should sometimes listen to her own advice that she gives to others.

The next question that Deepika asks is about common mistakes that the new Product Managers make. Navya’s advice is to “put personal growth before the product’s growth.” She wants to remind people that they need to get something out of a job too. Amanda advises not to wait for permission to do something but just to go and do it yourself. Otherwise, you might miss out on some great opportunities.

Sally takes a different angle to this. She says that people shouldn’t become PMs just because they want to be the CEO of a product. The reality of the job isn’t always glamorous. The PM needs to be willing to get things done even if it’s by doing them themselves. If someone can’t do something, you got to go and do it yourself. They also need to be capable of working together with the team and be ready to fight for their vision or direction to convince the team and management.

Journey to PM: Lessons Along the Way with AWIP

 

What is a good Product Manager like?

A PM needs to have a strong vision. “You need to be able to admit that you were wrong and not be afraid to change direction, even if it was just changed recently. There needs to be something in the way the person leads that makes people want to follow him or her, and the person needs to possess good influencing skills”, Sally says.

Also to be capable of looking at the broader picture and to be willing to do whatever it takes to get the team to work together is crucial,” Amanda adds. Navya concludes that “adaptability and ability as well as willingness to fill in the holes is important.

 

Problems faced along the way

All three say that they faced problems getting into product and also being there hasn’t been all that easy either. Navya admits that it was hard to prove to people that she can do product management and that she has enough engineering knowledge. Sally says that not having an enough technical background she found it hard to figure out what she could bring to the team.

Her boss, one of her mentors, advised her to look at the situation from a different angle. Instead of thinking what you don’t have, concentrate on what unique thing you have that you can bring to the team for it to succeed.

Journey to PM: Lessons Along the Way with AWIP

 

Advice to aspiring PM’s

The more you study about the company and the product the better. Do your homework and ask questions in return. That will help you in a job interview“, Navya says. Excitement and enthusiasm toward the job are positive signs in an interview situation that all the women agree on because showing your interest will make you more attractive. “Coming up with different ideas for the product is also desirable,” Amanda says.

“By evaluating what is a good PM and asking that question from different people in product will build your knowledge and help you gain experience without having the title,” Sally adds.

 

Diversity at work

When asked about diversity in the women’s workplaces Amanda says that at her job at Google they have a strong female lead. Navya continues that there are a lot of women, engineers, and marketers, at Peek and that the CEO is also a woman. “The more diversity, the better,” she adds.

She doesn’t mean only diversity regarding gender but also background and experience. Having a team from different countries, for example, does good things for the diversity. “Every company is different, and it also has a different culture. By evaluating the companies by what suits your needs and desires the best helps you find the right job,” Sally concludes.

 

Questions from the audience

 

How do you bypass the recruiter to talk to the hiring manager?

Navya: In bigger companies, it’s probably different, but I’m totally okay with people reaching out to me directly. People do that all the time, for example, on LinkedIn. If you have a non-conventional background its normal for the recruiter to cut you off but if you have a strong passion for the product, show that passion to the hiring manager.

Sally: Leverage the network you have. If you have a friend, who knows the hiring manager reach out to that friend and ask if they can make an intro. An intro helps a lot, and it goes a long way. People are much more receptive to chatting to you if they know a friend that you know or if you have something in common with them.

 

Journey to PM: Lessons Along the Way with AWIP

 

How do you convince people in a team that is more senior than you?

Amanda: This is easier to say than do but don’t think about it. I think one of the great things about tech is that it’s really about the ideas and about what you bring to the team. It’s not usually about your seniority. It’s more about thinking “why is this the direction we should go in” and “what research do I have.”

Also, I find the way to influence in any situation is to find the key people that you can get on the same page with you. Then you can grow it into more and more people. You can use different tactics, but for me, it’s all about trying to set the vision about where we’re going and get them on board.

Sally: If anyone has heard of a thing called “imposter syndrome” it sounds like that is what you have felt. You’re thinking of the people and that they have years of experience and that they are much smarter than you, but you are the Product Manager. You have thought about it for hours and much more deeply than they anybody else in the room regardless of how many years of experience they have. The product is your baby, and you’re doing whatever you can to make sure that the baby grows up.

I still struggle with that too. I was recently in a situation that seemed like I was asking for permission. Don’t go into the room asking for permission. If you feel like you should build something, go and build it. Lead your team. That situation reminded me that I don’t need to get the permission to do something and that I can move forward without someone smarter giving me the go ahead.

 

What are the gaps you might need to fill as a Product Manager?

Navya: You might have heard people say that a PM is a janitor and that you’re doing all the dirty work. It’s actually true. On a day-to-day life, you don’t really care about your title. You just want to care about if the job gets done it’s a success.

Here’s an example of the gaps. I’m doing partner outreach at the moment. I’m calling our customers because we don’t have a user research person at Peek, so I’m doing that myself. I also do my own requirements, and at times we do Q&As ourselves.

Hopefully, you’re not writing code but staying technical enough and working with the engineers. I’ve had PMs who have done paid marketing themselves. It’s about not saying “no” every time there’s a need. If you don’t have the right skillset then obviously get someone else to do it because teaching yourself to do it will only burn money and time.

Amanda: At Google, I have a fairly well-staffed team at this point, but over time it’s exactly the same as what Navya said. For example, I’ve run my own usability studies, I’ve worked on all the blog posts and PR, I’ve done all the milestone and spread sheeting.

Today I was trying to find a time for six executives to meet because two admins were out and I needed the meeting to happen. It’s about just trying to get the team unblocked by getting a decision made and thinking about “what is the next roadblock on the team and how do I remove it.

Journey to PM: Lessons Along the Way with AWIP

 

Quick transcript

1:00 Deepika introduces the panelists and they talk about what they do, what they’ve done previously and how they got into product.

10:45 The panelists talk about their mentors that helped shape their decisions and that gave them opportunities in Product. Sally talks about how to turn your thinking around from “how can I do it without the abilities” to “what abilities do I already have?” Amanda says that she had great bosses that helped her along the way.

16:00 They discuss what have been, in their opinion, common mistakes that new Product Managers do when getting into product and also in a job. Navya talks about personal growth being the most important thing in a job. They also mention good qualities that a PM should have.

23:50 The women give advice for a person going into an interview now. They talk about what specific resources should the candidates look at, how they should prepare and for how long. They discuss the interview process and what the women themselves are looking for in a candidate.

34:05 The ladies discuss the diversity situation in their companies and product teams and what their favorite products are.

39:17 Q&A session

 

Have any comments? Tweet us @ProductSchool

We teach product management courses in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and New York. To learn more about our upcoming courses and how to apply click over to our course page.

User Research to Validate Product Ideas

What is user research? How to leverage user research techniques to validate customer demand for new products and features? In our recent event, Michael Burk took us through the best UX practices, different user testing experiences (Moderated & Unmoderated) and how to analyze user flows.

 

 

Michael Burk is a Product Manager with a lot of experience. Most recently he worked at Scoot as the Vice President. Before that, he’s been at companies of different sizes like BigCommerce, Electronic Arts and Myspace. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Media Arts and enjoys working at start-ups.

 

Let’s talk about user research

Michael admits that user research is a broad topic that can’t possibly be handled in one presentation as some people devote their whole careers to it. In his presentation, he talked about how user research has been useful to him, what it is and how it’s relevant to Product Managers. He also mentioned different types of user research, went through the research process step by step and presented a framework for leveraging research in the product.

 

What is user research?

Michael defined user research as “building a deeper understanding of your users, their needs, their motivations and the way they are using your product. It helps Product Managers understand whom the product is for and why it is valuable.” “The goal of user research is to get actionable or testable data that can be used in the future for another iteration or research process,” he added.

 

User Research to Validate Product Ideas

 

How to do it?

There are different ways to collect the data. Observation techniques, task analysis, and other feedback methodologies are examples of data collecting tools. They are divided into qualitative and quantitative research.

The purpose of quantitative research is to tell, for example, how people use the product or how they would like to use it. Examples of this type of research are surveys and analytics directly from the products. For quantitative research, you need quite large data sets. This type of research is good for validating or invalidating the hypothesis.

On the other hand, qualitative research is good for getting individual one-on-one insights from the customers. Qualitative research can be, for example, interviews and open-ended questionnaires where the respondent has to give an answer instead of just choosing his answer from the scale of 1-10. Qualitative research is more individualized and less structured, and it gives more freedom to the respondent to say what he wants in his own words.

 

The research process

Michael presented the research process as a five-step loop. The different stages are objectives, hypothesis, methods, conduct, and synthesis.

The first step is setting a goal for the research. Why and what are questions that need an answer and also determining whether a lot of data is needed at the end or just a few most important points. Is there already an existing hypothesis? What data do you have already? If there is some, use that to your benefit.

Secondly, go through what you already know about the users. Think about “what assumptions need to be true for the product to be successful,” Michael said. Next, you have to choose the right research method. It should be effective in achieving the goals set for the research and suit the situation the best. Is it better to choose qualitative or quantitative research method? “The form and method of the research are determined by the goals,” Michael stated.

The fourth stage is conducting the research. Choose the test subjects and just do it. In the last stage, you synthesize the data. You analyze it and make the gained data actionable. Questions, such as, “did we validate or invalidate the hypothesis,” “did we learn anything unexpected” and “was the research successful” will be answered. The main point in research is gaining data that defines what the next step is.

 

Three-step product market strategy framework

1. Identify the target user(s)
2. Determine differentiating features
3. Determine table stakes feature (core feature)
4. Use the research to identify feature gaps and quality deficiencies
5. Prioritize based on maximum impact

 

“User research improves the odds of success for building products that meet (or exceed) your customers’ expectations,” Michael said and continued that “user research is mainly about understanding the features the customers value the most.”

 

User Research to Validate Product Ideas

 

Questions from the members in the audience

 

When conducting especially open-ended research what are the most effective methods of reaching the users?

I think it’s really easy. People make it more complicated than it needs to be. Just pick up the phone and call them. It can be that easy. Especially as a Product Manager you would be amazed by how willing people are to talk to someone who builds a product that they use. If you’re talking about doing an open-ended feedback where you want to get qualitative answers and hear things in their own words, the best way is to pick up the phone and reach out to them.

In some cases that may be viable and in others not. I had the luxury at Scoot to walk to one of the locations where you could park your scooter and talk to people about it. I was able to just walk there and interact with people directly. Depending on the type of product that you’re working with you might be able to do something like that.

At the very least you can reach out through emails, in-product messaging or notifications on a website. Hopefully, you can get away with getting feedback from people without incentivising them to do so because there are all kinds of pitfalls that come if you incentivise people to do the surveys. You might get some false information, and it might not be a good representative sample, so you have to treat the research appropriately.

 

If you have an existing product with users and data but you are just getting started, so your product doesn’t have metrics or analytics where do you start?

Here you are at the stage where you’re creating a lot of assumptions and hypotheses. In fact, much like in start-ups which I referenced a lot tonight everything that you’re doing is an assumption until you get it in the hands of your users and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with that it’s just the stage that you’re at.

You have to continue to make some of those assumptions and then think about how you can figure out whether or not they’re true. In terms of users and people you want to do user research with you have to have at least a hypothesis about who your target user should be and who are you solving this problem for.

If you don’t have that you have to find it immediately because you need to know who has the problem and if no one has it then go and find another problem to work on. Knowing that people have a problem gives you some assumptions about who they are and then it’s a matter of thinking about who they are and getting into their shoes a little bit. Think about what the day in the life of that user looks like? That process can be very valuable because there can be all sorts of opportunities right there.

User Research to Validate Product Ideas

 

Conducting research isn’t really as complicated as it sounds, but it is time-consuming. The whole process as Michael presented has many stages, and from the start to the end it can take a while. However, just like experimenting and testing, in the end, it’s worth it. Without doing it, you wouldn’t get the valuable data about the users to help your company grow.

 

Have any comments? Tweet us @ProductSchool

We teach product management courses in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Los Angeles, and New York. To learn more about our upcoming courses and how to apply click over to our course page.

Reinventing You: How to Build a Brand While Job Hopping

The previous generation had about two to three jobs in a career, so they didn’t need the skill of reinventing themselves. Today it’s not unusual for people to change jobs a dozen times which means that now reinvention is a matter of survival. How can we bring something new to the table every time we change jobs? How can we reinvent ourselves as painlessly as possible? The multi-talented SC Moatti responds to these questions.

 

 

SC Moatti, the bestselling author of Mobilized, is a visionary in the field of product management. She has 12 years of experience building products in companies such as Electronic Arts, Yahoo, Nokia and Trulia.

She’s also the former executive of Facebook and the founder of Products that Count, online community of Product Managers and Innovators. At the moment she does early stage investing, lectures at Stanford Graduate School of Business, and she’s a board member at Opera Software.

 

Reinventing You: How to Build a Brand While Job Hopping

 

“Reinventing yourself is a mindset.”

In the online event, she talked about building a brand while job hopping. Because Millennials change jobs more often than the previous generations, it is important for people to know how to rebuild themselves. The key points in her presentation were how to reinvent yourself professionally, three easy steps to raise one’s profile and tips for effective and efficient networking approaches. “Reinventing yourself is a mindset” Moatti stated.

She continued by saying that the world is tough. It’s tough for companies because they have to reinvent and rebuild themselves. In the past, they needed to change every seven to ten years, but now reinvention is needed every three to five years.

It’s not only the company that needs to reinvent itself it’s also the business. It’s tough for the individual also because now that the company changes the workforce has to change as well. “People have to reinvent themselves a dozen times in their career.”

 

How to reinvent yourself professionally?

Moatti compared the process of reinventing yourself to the process of growing a company or a product. She uses the same tool for the both of them. First, you define success and set your goal, and then you map everything to a funnel.

 

Set your goal

The first step is thinking of your next opportunity and setting the goal to who you want to be in about two to three years. Moatti suggested that you see yourself as a product that has many skills and many roles. Being realistic about the goal is important because even though you may have a lot of different skills, you need to learn more.

Refining the goal will get you the job you want. When you’ve learned the skills, you need to meet the people who are hiring or who are Product Managers themselves and network. A common mistake that Moatti advised to avoid is to not settle for less than your goal. “Don’t settle for a company you’re not excited about. Set the aim high and stick to it.”

 

Reinventing you: How to build a brand while job hopping

 

Map it out

The second step is to map everything, that leads to achieving your goal, to a funnel. Are there any skills that could be transferred to accomplish the goals? Are there any people in the network that you could talk to to get close to the goal? What are the companies that interest you? All this will go into the funnel.

 

But…there is no funnel

Now here comes the difficult part; there isn’t a funnel for reinventing yourself. There isn’t a plan to follow. All opportunities are serendipitous. They come and go, and they can’t be planned. “What you really want to think are disruptive and innovative ways to construct your career to reinvent yourself,” Moatti said.

 

Hooks – The art of reinventing yourself

She continued by saying that “one way that will help you in the process is making yourself attractive to the type of role you want to have by being creative and innovative.” This she called a hook. She gave an example from her own life. Some time ago she wanted to start a company, but she didn’t have the right people to start it with.

To find a person to co-found a company with she set up an organization called Founder Dating in Silicon Valley that connects people that are looking for co-founders. With the help of the organization, she got herself a partner and helped many other people find theirs as well.

Another way to make yourself more attractive is volunteering. When you volunteer at organizations like Products That Count you can connect with people, network and create opportunities. You may very well find your next job there.

After you’ve done “the art and science of reinventing yourself,” you need to let things happen for you and according to Moatti’s words “let it go.” Just let things happen for you.

 

Reinventing you: How to build a brand while job hopping

 

Three steps to raise your profile

If you want to raise your profile, there are three fairly easy steps to do it. The first is joining the conversation by curating news, hosting people from the company you respect or retweeting interesting content related to product management. Moatti suggests retweeting one interesting thing every day.

The second is to shape the conversation by commenting, moderating and tweeting own opinions. Give your own contribution to the conversation. You can do this by writing an article once a month and being in one panel every month.

The last step is to drive the conversation. You can do this by taking stands, writing and speaking about your field. Write a book and give talks and eventually, you will become the thought leader in your field.

 

Questions from the followers

 

How do you “let it go” when you’re very ambitious?

You make letting go your target. I understand that a lot of people are ambitious and they work 24/7 trying to reach their goals but at some point it becomes counterproductive. Sometimes you have to let time do its work. Just make that a goal to let it go. Think about what are the things you can do to let it go.

I have one personal example. What I use to help me are like hobbies. They are things that require enough attention on my part that I let go of the thing, my goals because I have to focus on that hobby. A good example of that is playing chess. If I want to win at chess, I better pay attention to where I put my pieces. I forget about my ambition and my goal because I need to win the chess game. Another hobby example would be horseback riding.

 

What would you say are the best ways to communicate my PM skills in a 10-minute conversation at a networking event?

At a networking event, my recommendation is to build a connection to the person you’re talking with. Don’t show them your resume. Talk and see if there’s a good fit, for example, if you get along with the people you’re talking to that is a good sign. At this point, it is likely that they feel the same about you. Then you might want to follow up with them after that to go through the interview process but.

In the beginning of a networking event to build a connection, you can talk about your love for car racing, for example, and if the other person loves that too then, you can talk about the last time you went to a car race. After that you can continue talking about your experience and history in product and that you would love to chat with them about working at their company.

Thinking of yourself as a product helps you look at the situation from a different angle. Every product needs branding and so do you. The brand of a product doesn’t stay the same for long periods of time and neither should yours either. There isn’t one way or even two ways to reinvent yourself but there are plenty of roads for everyone.

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